By Austin Maho PhD
Nothing typifies the inherent corruption, waste and bare faced duplicity in government than the recent award of a five billion naira contract for the rehabilitation of vandalized sections of Abuja mass transit rail system by the Federal Capital Territory Administration.
The humongous allocation is been made without asking why a project that was commissioned in 2018 which was never really put to use requires such huge allocation for rehabilitation. Besides why was the Metro line shutdown under the guise of observing Covid-19 protocol? and what has been the benefit of the almost 200 million dollars loan procured by the federal government for the project to warrant the allocation of another 5 billion naira for rehabilitation?.
What really is the Abuja light rail project? The, Abuja light rail system Phase 1 comprises Lots 1 and 3 made up of 77.775 km out of the six Lots designated by the transportation masterplan was awarded in 2007. However, only Lots 1 A and 3made up of 45.245 km to date have been completed as at 2017. The completed lot was inaugurated-in 2018, and followed by a trial operation which was eventually suspended and if truth be told, as a result of its commercial non viability. It was a commercial failure for two primary reasons reasons, one because of the route it was designed to serve and secondly, the citing of the station in an isolated difficult to reach location. Consequently, the train service ran mostly empty for the brief period it was operational.
For God’s sake how can a Metro rail with a station in an isolated part of the city centre that traverses through an uninhabited forest and terminates at the Abuja international airport be described as a mass rail project? Who or where are the masses it is meant to serve along this route? Why was the first phase of the rail service in conception and execution not first extended to the suffering masses in satellite towns of Abuja who truly needs it?
The FCT permanent secretary, Mr. Olusade Adesola, said when he flagged off the restoration of the transportation infrastructure on August 5, 2023 that the project would be delivered in 12 months. Adesola described the light rail as the lifeblood of Abuja, noting that it would play a crucial role in easing transportation challenges of residents, and described vandalism of the equipment as a serious
setback to the administration while assuring that the FCT would soon witness the return of a more efficient and reliable transportation system. According to him:“The revitalisation of the Abuja Rail Mass Transit System is not just about repairing physical infrastructure; it is a testament to the resilience of our city and its people and a demonstration of our government’s dedication to creating an enabling environment for economic growth and social well-being,”
High sounding words designed to inspire and give fillip to his desire to expend 5 billion naira on an elitist project but means nothing to the suffering masses and civil servants who resides in Gwagwalada, Suleja, Karu, Nyanaya, Maraba, Masaka and daily have to traverse terrible traffic to make it to the city, seating on overloaded buses, open trucks risking their lives yet paying hefty fares, just to get to the city centre and to work.
The FCTA it would seems have no plans for these class of people but yet throws words around as if it is working for their interest. The minister of the FCT Nyesom Wike who visited the metro line station should ask his civil servants the right questions before committing N5 billion to the restoration of the rail service. All over the world metro light rail are designed to ease transportation for the less privilege, while the well heeled can afford alternative and more expensive form of transportation the poor mostly rely on metro rail to ease movement.
The truth is that the magnificent 200 million USD Abuja Metro railway is an elitist white elephant project. Most Abuja residents are not even aware of the train service. Those that are aware of the service consider using the service to commute to the airport a waste of time. It offers no compensation as an alternative to taking the road., which is about 25 minutes from the City Centre. Why go to a train station to wait for several minutes before boarding a train to the airport and risk missing your flight when in less than 25 minutes you can take a car to your destination hassle free?. This is the real dilemma of the Abuja Metro rail.
How can you be running empty coaches and insist on expending another 5 billion naira to reinforce failure. The abruptly termination of the service in March 2020 has nothing to do with COVID- 19 pandemic. The plan rehabilitation, and completion of the metro line services will not bring any succor to residents of the Territory.
The Abuja Metro rail line should be called what it truly: an elitist, white elephant project, designed for optics and to massage the ego of the elite who ironically would not use the service. That the FCTA is ready to spend additional 5billion naira to rehabilitate this ill conceived project and spend an addition amount of money to provide constant security on the line shows the mind bugling idiocy that guides decision making process in government circles.